The sight of this mansion creates sorrowing sighs; And the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes. In this world this edifice has been made; To display thereby the creator’s glory.
The Taj Mahal
When someone we love and the center of our universe has been taken from us, the grief and pain can be so debilitating. We cope in different ways. More often than not, we wish to create something that would immortalize the presence or maybe the entire being of the one we lost. This is exactly what the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan did. He loved; lost, and created a world renowned icon of love.
History books often painted us an imagery of grandeur and an encompassing love of a husband for his wife. He commissioned a majestic final resting place painstakingly built for 22 years, adorned with priceless jewels, stones and unimaginable amount of gold, silver and precious metals. The Taj Mahal has been synonymous to love for the simple reason that it has been made for love and out of love.
The Love Story
Scribes and historians recounted that when Shah Jahan was 14, a young Muslim Persian princess hawking glass and silk beads at the Meena Bazaar caught his eye and he fell in love. He went home and told his father that he wanted to marry her and he did; five years later. The girl was Arjumand Banu Begnum better known as Mumtaz Mahal.
Although Shah Jahan had two other wives before Mumtaz Mahal, she was the clear favorite. Her name alone says it all. Mumtaz Mahal means Jewel of the Palace. She was described as this because her beauty and character is above anyone else at that time. Our guide Nunu, added that Shah Jahan’s marriage to his two other wives was strictly official and incomparable to his relationship with Mumtaz Mahal. Their relationship is that of a true married couple. She is fiercely devoted, a loyal confidante and ever present companion. She would accompany him even in military campaigns even in her pregnancy. Sadly, Mumtaz Mahal passed away as she was giving birth to their 14th child. As she lay on her deathbed, her husband vowed that he would never remarry and in her honor would erect the richest and grandest mausoleum. He was true to his word. His promise translated in the building of a world wonder.
Ain’t it shweet? 🙂
The Beautiful Mausoleum
After five hours on the road, The Taj Mahal is now in sight. There it stood in white; like a spectacular gigantic pearl in the midst of a rundown city. As we prepare to enter its gates we were advised to leave any books, magazines, newspapers, toys, electronic devices except for mobile phones, cameras and video cameras and absolutely no food items allowed except for water. Though, the Taj Mahal is a tourist destination, one must not forget that it is a final resting place that must be respected.
Entering the gates you have the option to walk, to ride a camel or a rickshaw (motorized or human pulled). We opted to walk. Besides it’s only about 5-10 minutes and we need to stretch our legs after being stuck in the car for five hours. It was a pleasant to surprise that a lot of the visitors are Indians. I was expecting there were more tourists. But then again, Nunu informed me that most tourists come during the cooler months and we were there during Indian summer where it can get boiling hot! Temperature can soar up to 48 Celsius! It is a good idea to wear a hat or visor during the summer months which never entered my mind therefore I got my forehead burned! We reached the ticket booth and paid 750 INR (Indian Rupees) which includes VIP Pass, a bottle of water and socks. Indians only pay 20 rupees but without the freebies and VIP lanes. As we stood by the south entrance of the Taj Mahal, Nunu regaled us with a brief history and its construction. The Taj Mahal is an architectural feat back in the day. The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan gathered bright minds from India, Persia and Turkey to build an elaborate structure.
The Taj Mahal’s design is that of extreme intricacies.
The wall decorations are a testament of hard work and manmade ingenuity. The plant motifs on the marble walls were laboriously sculpted, the spandrel detail adorning the Taj were made of precious stones such as jade, garnet, bloodstone, orange carnelian, blue lapis lazuli and multi colored agates and chalcedonies. These were meticulously pounded and bonded together to make the design whole. The calligraphy on the walls is actually Qu’ran passages made out of a precious stone called star of India; a kind sapphire that is said to be found only in India. The star of India is a very fascinating gemstone. When the light touches the stone, an effect called asterismcauses a star to appear.
The Taj Mahal stands in grandeur and speaks of great wealth. Apart from the precious stones inlaid in the walls and ceiling of the Taj Mahal, the original finial or the metal part atop the dome is made out of solid gold. I have been told that when the Brits colonized India, much of the jewels, stones and the gold including that of the Taj has been ransacked and brought to Britain. The current finial is now made out of bronze. The building cost of the Taj Mahal is so costly considering that several materials used were brought to Agra from different parts of India (translucent marble from Rajasthan, jasper from Punan, crystal from China, turquoise from Tibet, lapis lazuli from Afganistan, sapphire from Sri Lanka and carnelian from Arabia). Our guide informed that there are about 28 different kind of stones inlaid in the pure white marble of the Taj Mahal. If one would estimate the cost of the Taj Mahal at this present day, it would be at a staggering one billion US dollar. Wow! Imagine how much a billion dollars cost back in the day!
Every bit of the Taj Mahal is a sight to behold but what captivates the visitors is actually the tomb itself; that familiar white dome of marble housing the bodies of the beloved queen and her king. In the midst of the dome is the “coffin” of Mumtaz Mahal and right beside her is Shah Jahan. “Coffin” because it is not where their bodies are. As a matter of fact, it is underneath. There is an underground to the Taj Mahal and this is where the bodies of the deceased royals lay in peace. The underground is closed for public viewing but once a year it is opened for public celebration. It is also good to note that photography in this area is not allowed.
I would not even bother attempting to describe how the tomb was designed or made. All I know is that it is a complex structure that speaks masterpiece and designed with careful symmetrical detail. Symmetry is an important element of the Taj Mahal. It has been said that everything about the Taj is in perfect symmetry. To name a few, in the main gate, there are 11 domes in the front and 11 at the back. The four minarets
or towers around the Taj are in proportion towards each other. The minarets stand at angle. It was built as such so that in the case of an earthquake, the towers are meant to fall away from the Taj Mahal. There are two identical buildings on each side of the Taj Mahal. The first one was a mosque; built for Shah Jahan’s workers and the other building was built just for the sake of symmetry.
However, there is only one flaw found at the interior; the coffins themselves. As in local custom, the male coffin must be bigger in size than that of the lady. The Taj Mahal indeed is a beauty. It is the crown jewel of Agra and had attracted numerous visitors who traveled far and wide to behold this famed wonder. It has been said that the Taj Mahal seems to change color depending on the time of day or night. I have heard that the Taj Mahal is most beautiful during the full moon. The pale moonshine enhances the Taj’s natural beauty making it appear like a glistening pearl. I wish I could have witnessed that sight but there is always a next time. I think of it as a reason to come back.
This exquisite megalithic memorial took 22 years to finish with a 22 thousand strong work force. Legend has it that after the completion of the Taj Mahal, the mughal king ordered the hands of his laborers be cut off so that no one could recreate the Taj. Goosebumps! Nunu says that it is nothing more than a myth. I surely hope that there is no truth in it. I just find it despicable that after devoting so much time and effort to erect an incredible building, the thanks that you will get is to have your hands cut off!
It is a norm for most travelers to take a little memento in each place they visit In my visit to the Taj Mahal, I did not want postcards, magnets, snow globes, key chains, shot glass or miniature replicas of it. I want something different, more memorable. I want something that discreetly screams TAJ MAHAL every time I look at it. Well, I got myself a star of India. Actually a necklace with a star of India as a pendant. Few believe that there stones and jewels have a power attraction on certain things in life. It is believed that the star of India (so I have been told by the jeweler) attracts wealth and prosperity. I am not a believer of this but it wouldn’t hurt to try to attract these good vibes right?
Star of India
As I leave India with wealth and prosperity worn around my neck, I do hope that it brings exactly that. Because this itchyfeet still has lots of places to go, people to meet, food to devour and amazing experiences because the world is just awesome!